The number of households classed as homeless increased by 14% last year, Government figures have revealed.
Some 48,510 applications for homelessness assistance were approved by councils, up from 42,390 in 2010. Among them were 69,460 children or unborn babies, the statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government showed.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of homeless charity Crisis, said: "Our worst fears are coming to pass.
"We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services."
Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey blamed the coalition Government's economic and housing policies for the rise.
"It is an absolute tragedy that in 2012 so many families do not have a home they can call their own," he said.
"The Government's economic policies are failing, leading to rising unemployment, increases in fuel bills and the biggest squeeze on family incomes in a generation. Combined with the Government's reckless changes to benefits, it was inevitable that homelessness would rise and that it will continue to rise."
But Housing Minister Grant Shapps said rising homelessness was the legacy of a "debt-laden economy".
He said the figures "underline how the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country".
And he added: "Despite this, homelessness remains lower than for 28 of the last 30 years - and is half the average rate seen under the previous Government. Our strong safety net of support is keeping thousands of vulnerable people off the street, and I'm determined to take every opportunity to build on this."